The 'Revise and Resubmit'

Michael S. Harris offers advice on how to handle a key part of the publishing process.

August 3, 2015

When submitting your writing for publication in a journal, the best you can often hope for is to receive a “revise and resubmit” request from the editor. This means the reviewers and editor found value in your manuscript, but want to see revisions. After the revisions, the journal is willing to have you resubmit the manuscript for a second review. While there is no guarantee that the journal will accept the article after revisions, your odds are certainly better than if they rejected you! In today’s post, I will share a few tips and suggestions for how to respond to a revise and resubmit from an academic journal.

I recently went through several rounds of revisions on a manuscript that I am publishing. I received literally hundreds of comments and suggestions for changes. One round of revisions had 277 items to address.

If you receive a long list of revisions, do not despair. Editors and reviewers may request dozens or hundreds of changes. The fact that an editor is willing to reconsider your manuscript despite the areas to improve should give you hope.

Without a clear plan, you simply can’t tackle that many comments. Below are the six steps I take to respond to a revise and resubmit request from a scholarly publication and I believe can be a useful model.

1. Read through the comments and edits.

Often, you will receive a set of overarching comments and areas to improve from the editor. You should read this first as it will give you the broad parameters of what you need to work on improving. Next, there will usually be comments from reviewers. Sometimes these are in a narrative form and other times they will be inside the manuscript (using track changes in Word, for example). Read through these to get a better sense of the specific areas that you will need to address.

2. Create a master to-do list.

The next step is to create a to-do list of everything you need to fix before resubmitting the manuscript. I include everything from the major to minor on the list (this list is how I know I had 277 things to fix in one round of revisions). Particularly for the major areas listed in the editor’s letter, you may have to create multiple items to resolve the issue raised. I recommend your to do list be written in an action item format. For example, don’t list “clarify conceptual framework.” Instead use “insert an additional page of discussion of the conceptual framework to better explain how I used the conceptual framework in my analysis.”

As you work on creating the master to do list, you will find that some reviewers mention similar areas to improve so you can combine these comments into one action item. You may also realize that the reviewers’ advice is contradictory. In this case, you will have to determine how you will move forward and put that on your to do list.

3.  Work through your master to do list.

Now that you have compiled everything you need to finish before resubmitting your manuscript, the next stage is to work through the list. There are multiple ways you can do this. Some people prefer to work logically through the paper starting at the introduction, working through to the conclusion. I tend to prefer to move around between different sections to keep myself fresh and to keep my mind on the big picture. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this so long as you get everything on the to do list completed.

Another way I like to tackle the list is by starting each writing session with a big issue to fix. This way I know I have completed a major area of revision in the writing session. Toward the end of my writing time, I will knock out a few quick and easy changes to make myself feel better about the progress I am making.

4.  Review the editor’s letter and reviewers’ comments.

After completing your to do list, review the editor’s letter and any comments that you received to make sure that you fully addressed what they asked you to do. As you get into the weeds of making changes, you can easily miss something. This check can help you verify that you have done everything needed.

5.  Write a response letter to the editor.

Using your to do list and the original reviews as a guide, write a letter to the editor. You do not need to detail every minor change that you have made, but you should identify the major areas that you improved. In addition, if you had contradictory comments from reviewers or did not address a major area raised by the reviewers, you should clearly explain your logic and rationale.

6.  Resubmit your manuscript and CELEBRATE!

Receiving a revise and resubmit is a huge accomplishment. Completing the revisions and resubmitting your manuscript is truly a wonderful milestone — celebrate your achievement.


Michael S. Harris is associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University.


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